For the first time in a long time, people seem to think that UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre might not defend his title against a challenger. Going into his bout with Johny Hendricks, GSP has a narrow edge as a betting favorite and has seen a growing public belief that his lengthy win streak might be snapped at UFC 167.
It could be Hendricks' power and wrestling chops that have people believing he's the man to win a title.
Perhaps it's all the talk of St-Pierre and his "big plans," which, based on who you talk to, could be anything from retirement to exiting the MGM post-fight via giant spaceship Saturday night.
People are talking, and many are saying this is the end for the greatest 170-pound champion the sport has ever seen.
And they are so, so wrong.
For all the speculation going into this fight, people are ignoring the most important factor of all: Georges St-Pierre is stupid good at beating people up. No nice-looking posters or snappy quotes on a Countdown to UFC 167 show are going to change that.
In the past few years alone, fans and pundits said Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz were all dangerous and specially equipped to topple the champion.
Alves and Hardy were lethal strikers who would KO St-Pierre the minute they got to him—especially Alves, because of his great takedown defense. Both were beaten senseless, Hardy in particularly one-sided fashion.
Koscheck was a wrestler with big power, not unlike Hendricks is, and he was bound to keep it standing and land a big punch. He didn't.
Shields and Diaz were elite grapplers who would submit the champion if it hit the ground, and Diaz had the added bonus of his expert boxing. Shields won a single round, Diaz didn't even get into the fight until it was almost over.
Condit was the closest to living up to the hype, a game competitor who took GSP to the outer limits of his ability and nearly scored a head-kick KO. Except he couldn't finish the fight and lost just like everyone else who has come along.
Some of the hype is St-Pierre himself, a man so robotic with the media that it's hard to tell what's a second-language issue and what's an issue of hating stupid questions.
Who ya got?
"Toughest opponent yet" is a phrase used so liberally by the champion that it's hard to imagine he doesn't collect royalties every time someone else utters it, and it's muddied the waters of which guys actually are those challenges.
One guy who isn't, though, is Hendricks.
Unfortunately, while people are giddy with excitement at his highlight reel of vicious knockouts and pump themselves up further with the reminder that he wrestled in college, the challenger epitomizes the idea of a puncher's chance.
Watch his own fight against Condit, one that many thought he lost, to see a man with almost no technical acumen in his striking. Leaping, lunging, diving left hooks were the order of the day then, and against a guy who loves a brawl, it's not even a horrible strategy.
It's a recipe for disaster against St-Pierre, though, who has developed a sound boxing game and has the best double leg in the sport for use against guys too heavy on their front foot (as one is when he's chasing you around swinging for a one-punch knockout).
Watch Hendricks against Koscheck if you want to see him get outworked and outwrestled for much of a fight and end up on the right side of another tight-to-questionable decision. Koscheck had no issues putting Hendricks where he wanted—and similarly few concerns with his vaunted left hand.
Plus there's that loss to Rick Story. The one where Story pretty much did whatever he wanted on his way to a boring (but effective) decision? Yeah, that happened.
Make no mistake, Hendricks has a chance against GSP. But that chance is resting almost entirely in his left hand, and St-Pierre is too tactical, too clever and too good to let that dictate the fight. He's also a more diverse striker with better wrestling, and there's evidence there to suggest those guys cause the challenger problems.
People can talk. They always do.
But that doesn't change the fact that this one isn't as close as people think it is.